Benitez given safe Europa route but Fulham's path fraught with danger

It said everything about Liverpool's ignominious exit from Europe's elite competition that while Manchester United and Chelsea could salivate over Italian competition yesterday, Rafael Benitez's charges were examining their atlases to find a Romanian town which sounds like something you'd locate inside a gents' toilet.

The Europa League draw, which sees Liverpool face Romanian champions Unirea Urziceni in the first knock-out round and the winners of Lille and Fenerbahce if they progress, does offer Benitez the prospect of potentially straightforward progress to a semi-final, though.

The Romanians, managed by former Chelsea full-back Dan Petrescu, won 4-1 at Rangers and defeated Seville 1-0 at home in the course of their exit from the Champions League so the challenge cannot be underestimated.

Playing an unheralded side does bring its pressures for Liverpool: defeat to a club who must play at the Steaua Stadium in Bucharest because their own has a capacity of just 7,000 would be a huge embarrassment to Benitez. Yet it is not as bad as it could have been with the unseeded Liverpool avoiding Marseilles, Juventus and Shakhtar Donetsk in a strong field for this tournament.

"The Champions League has the best teams, that is clear – though they are missing one, Liverpool," Benitez said in reaction to the draw. "But there are so many good teams that the Europa League will be difficult. Atletico [Madrid] and Valencia are massive clubs so you will see a lot of big clubs, like Juventus. When we won the Uefa Cup at Valencia [in 2004] and when Liverpool won it [in 2001] it was an important competition. Now it is less important than before because the Champions League is so massive, but you will see top sides so it will be interesting. There are good teams. It surprised me people saying we had to win the Europa League, because if you check the teams that are there it will be difficult."

It remains to be seen if he will be tempted to rest players, to the detriment of the league effort, or go full strength for Europe. Unirea arrive at Anfield on 18 February, three days before Liverpool's potentially crucial trip to Manchester City. The away leg precedes a home match with Blackburn. Benitez said yesterday that the Premier League top-four place was more important. "If we win some [Europa League] games we will be the same [as the Champions League] in terms of money. For us, the main thing is to qualify in the top four and guarantee we are in the top four," he said.

Lille are fifth in France's Ligue 1, but only a point behind Lyons who eliminated Liverpool. Fenerbahce lead the Turkish Super Lig and have dropped only three points at home all season.

Everton have been drawn against Sporting Lisbon and manager David Moyes has welcomed a return to the city after his side was thrashed 5-0 by Benfica when they last visited the Portuguese capital in the group stages in October. Having recovered from that trip to qualify for the last 32, Moyes was upbeat. "I'm looking forward to it," he said. "Last time we went there was disappointing but this time we will hopefully go there with a full team and be able to put on a better show. Sporting will be really tough – they have been in and around the Champions League in recent seasons."

The Fulham manager, Roy Hodgson, believes his side have been handed one of the toughest draws by being paired with last year's Uefa Cup winners Shakhtar Donetsk. The Ukrainian side beat Werder Bremen in the final of Europe's second competition last season before its name and format changed this summer.

Hodgson said: "It doesn't get much harder than playing the champions, I suppose. We saw last year what a good team they are. On the other hand we have battled hard to get through the group stage and we were hoping for a good game, an interesting game."

If Fulham win they are guaranteed a glamour tie in the last 16, against Ajax or Juventus. Everton would play Atletico Madrid or Galatasaray.

Europa Cup draw

*Round of 32: R Kazan v Hapoel Tel-Aviv, A Bilbao v Anderlecht, Copen-hagen v Marseilles, Panathinaikos v Roma, A Madrid v Galatasaray, Ajax v Juventus, Bruges v Valencia, Fulham v S Donetsk, Liverpool v U Urziceni, Hamburg v PSV, Villarreal v Wolfsburg, S Liege v Red Bull Salzburg, Twente v W Bremen, Lille v Fenerbahce, Everton v Sporting, Hertha Berlin v Benfica.

To be played 18 & 25 February

*Selected round of 16:

A Madrid / Galatasaray v Everton / Sporting, Lille / Fenerbahce v Liverpool / U Urziceni, Ajax / Juventus v Fulham / S Donetsk

To be played 11 & 18 March

Unirea's player to watch Dacian Varga

*The diminutive 25-year-old played a key role in helping Unirea win their first Romanian title last season. Varga plays either as a withdrawn striker or on the left, from where his dangerous delivery causes problems. Showed what he can do with a fantastic goal against Stuttgart in the Champions League.

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
News
A rub on the tummy sprang Casey back to life
video
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
people
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
News
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
people
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little